Big changes are coming to Epcot.
The park has been known predominantly for its unique food offerings and annual festivals, but it's time for an update, says Disney.
The company is embarking on a massive park transformation, updating classic attractions, adding more family-friendly experiences and sprinkling a little more Disney flair around the nearly 40-year-old park. Epcot, which focuses on technology and international cultures, has long been a destination for adults but has been, perhaps, a little too mature for younger parkgoers.
"We love Epcot," Michael Hundgen, executive producer for Walt Disney Imagineering, said Thursday. "It's the only one of its kind, there is only one Epcot, and as we thought about the next evolution of this park, we really harked back to Walt. He said Epcot would always be in a state of becoming, and this is sort of the next chapter of that state of becoming for us."
Disney toured media through several of Epcot's new but unfinished upgrades, allowing a sneak peek of what's to come. However, many of the areas were not allowed to be photographed.
One of the biggest transformations, and one guests will be able to enjoy next year, is being made to the France pavilion.
Disney is adding Remy's Ratatouille Adventure, a trackless ride that takes guests through a Pixar version of France. With a little imagination, parkgoers can pretend they have been shrunk down to the size of Remy himself. They will be whisked through a French restaurant on little mouse cars, where danger lurks around every turn.
Walking through this new experience, members of the media gasped at the massive two-ton fish and ham bones dangling from the ceiling. Little else was revealed about what guests will encounter as they scuttle through the kitchen, but the massive refrigerator, oversized fruits and vegetables, including a four-foot tall orange, were enough to whet appetites for more.
France will also add a "Beauty and the Beast" sing-along to its theater and full-scale creperie.
"We are doubling down on the things that we know our guests love about Epcot, the festivals, the showcase, Spaceship Earth itself," Hundgen said. "And we're creating more experiences for families, creating more experiences that feel inherently Disney — and we mean characters and, of course, our franchises, but also the emotion connections."
The goal is to make Epcot more "timeless" and more "relevant," Hundgen said, but also a place for all generations and ages, not just adults.
He pointed to the addition of "Frozen" characters to the Norway pavilion as a model for changes coming to the France pavilion. Anna, Elsa, Kristoff, Olaf and Sven, who live in Arendelle, a land based on the fjords of Norway, are the perfect intersection between honoring the authenticity of the country of Norway with the magic of Disney.
The hope is to replicate that success in the France pavilion and then again with its new additions planned for the United Kingdom pavilion.
The first-ever "Mary Poppins" attraction is coming to Epcot, including a whole neighborhood based on Cherry Tree Lane from the film.
Walt Disney himself had initially envisioned Epcot, which stands for Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, to be an actual city where people lived and worked with new technology. However, after Disney's death, the company decided not to build and open a city but instead created a new theme park, infused with emerging technology of the time.
Epcot, which opened in 1982, is home to the World Showcase, which features dozens of pavilions of countries from around the globe. This part of the park will remain once Disney's transformation of Epcot is complete, but it will be joined by three new neighborhoods: Discovery, Celebration and Nature.
The new Spaceship Earth will focus on storytelling, Bob Chapek, chairman of parks, said during Disney's D23 Expo in August. He said many of the scenes that were part of the original will remain but be updated. New moments will also be added. The exit to the ride will be called Dreamer's Point and have a new statue of Walt Disney.
World Celebration will feature a wishing tree, a story fountain and a pavilion for live events.
"It is about rounding out family offerings at Epcot, but it's, at the same time, about doubling down on the things we know work really well," Hundgen said. "So, festivals are inherently Epcot, and this new home for our festivals, this festival center that is being built, will really become the purpose-built epicenter for all of the content."
World Discovery will feature a "Guardians of the Galaxy" ride called Guardians of the Galaxy Cosmic Rewind as well as a new Play Pavilion where characters from Disney and Pixar films will appear for meet-and-greets and as part of a digital city.
Mission Space will also be updated with a new restaurant. The restaurant is called Space 220, which is set in a space station sitting high above the Earth. It will open this winter.
World Nature will feature The Journey of Water experience based on "Moana." Epcot will also be getting a new nighttime spectacular called Harmonious. It will debut in 2020.